The Jordan Times 28 July 2006
GAZA (Reuters) -- Israeli soldiers killed four civilians inGaza on Thursday, Palestinian medical workers said, while police at a checkpoint in south Jerusalem killed a Palestinian who shot at them. Israel's offensive into the Gaza Strip to recover a captured soldier and end cross-border rocket attacks has largely been overshadowed by fighting against Hizbollah fighters in Lebanon, but shows no sign of slackening.
Those who died on Thursday included a 75-year-old woman, whose house was hit by a missile or shell. Medical workers said another two civilians, aged 16 and 23, were killed in an air strike. A male civilian died from his wounds from a tank shell. The army said the air strikes targeted groups of fighters, including some who fired an anti-tank missile at troops.
A spokeswoman said the military did not fire at civilians intentionally and was constantly warning them to evacuate areas where fighters were present. Meanwhile in south Jerusalem, Israeli border police killed a Palestinian gunman who shot at them at a checkpoint. Two Israeli officers were taken to hospital.
At least 149 Palestinians, around half of them fighters, have been killed in the month long assault on Gaza. Wednesday's death toll of 24 was the highest since Israeli troops returned to the territory in late June, less than a year after they had withdrawn following a 38-year occupation. Tanks and troops pushed into northeastern Gaza, a stronghold of fighters firing rockets into Israel, early on Wednesday and have remained.
At least 12 of the 24 killed on Wednesday were fighters. Fighters have kept up attacks with homemade rockets despite the Israeli offensive. Israel has rejected demands for a prisoner exchange by the fighters who captured Corporal Gilad Shalit in a border raid on June 25.
Some of the fighters came from the armed wing of the governing Hamas Islamist group. The Hamas armed wing dismissed comments from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, during a visit to Rome on Thursday, suggesting a solution could be imminent to the case of the captured soldier. "Nothing has changed in the case of the Israeli soldier," said Abu Ubaida, spokesman for the Izz Deen Qassam Brigades."The file remains in the hands of the resistance factions and not in the hands of any politician even if that politician is Abu Mazen," Abu Ubaida said, using Abbas's nickname.
Abbas had spoken to reporters in Rome after talks with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi." I told the prime minister that as far as the question of the abducted Israeli soldier is concerned efforts are undergoing continuously that lead us to believe that the solution will be imminent," he said through an interpreter. "I hope the soldier is in good health and that he can soon return to his family. I would like to remind you that there are 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails and we hope that they too can return to their families," he said.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Abbas' remarks had been misinterpreted. "I do not think that the president meant to say that the release was imminent," Erekat told CNN television. "Efforts are being exerted but I wouldn't jump to any premature conclusions at this stage."
The offensive has put pressure on the Hamas-led government, which was already struggling under a cripplingUS-led aid embargo, designed to force the group to recognise Israel's right to exist, renounce violence and accept past peace deals.